Ready or Not: Pierce County Disaster Preparedness
by Jen Drake
In the City of Tacoma Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, entitled “Food and Water”, it is the City of Tacoma’s policy that “citizens are advised to be prepared to be on their own for 7-10 days following a disaster.” Who has enough food and water to last 7-10 days (besides the Mormons)?
What would happen if our grocery stores ran out of food and we were cut off from Sysco’s delivery system? What would the city of Tacoma do if, due to natural or man-made disasters, we could no longer obtain enough food or clean water for our area? Ding Dongs and Ho Hos may last millennia, but there are only so many to go around in Tacoma circles.
Our system hangs on thin threads if such an event were to occur. We depend on our grocery stores for our food, not on our gardens. Adding to the problem is that each state specializes in certain commodities, thereby limiting the critical nature of diversifying produce. In our region, we could find blueberries and other fruits in the Skagit valley, rhubarb, corn, beets, and a few other veggies in Puyallup, apples in Olympia, Wilcox chickens from the Graham area, but seriously, there is just not enough local food to take care of our local people, and in the event of a serious disaster, we would have no way to obtain those goods anyway.
What would happen if a disaster happened in our region? A tsunami, earthquake, or Rainier rupturing? While the City of Tacoma may have a plan, have they ever put the full plan to use to see if the Chain of Command holds up and works smoothly?
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the urgency to find family members became a frantic cat-and-mouse game for many people as evacuation and subsequent relocation efforts took place. Children ended up in different cities from their parents. Not only finding lost loved ones, but basic survival needs were left out of the picture, and people died because of inept plans by the city, county, State, and nation. Is Tacoma ready for such an event? I hope so. Are you?
Tacoma’s Emergency Plan encourages people to make a family disaster kit that is ready to grab and go in the event of a disaster. Above all, the essentials should include water, food, medications, and a journal that lists contact information, meet-up location, and out of state relatives’ information.
Disaster Kit Checklist
Tacoma’s Emergency Disaster Guide encourages each person to have a kit containing these items available for use (and provides a more detailed list than what I post below):
Water: Store a minimum of one gallon per person per day (for drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene). Store enough for one week.
Food and Food Preparation: Store non-perishable foods, avoiding foods that will make you thirsty. Store enough for one week. Include all food preparation items, such as can openers, cooking camp stove, utensils, etc.
First Aid: Purchase a commercial first aid kit or assemble your own, and ensure that medications, bandages, neosporin for cuts, alcohol swabs, and sanitation towelettes are included.
Sanitation and Personal Hygiene: include such things as bleach, personal toothbrushes, toilet paper, covered container to use as a toilet, trash bags, etc.
Sleeping and Clothing Supplies: complete change of clothes for each person, warm blankets and sleeping pads, etc.
Shelter, Communication, Tools and Other Supplies: small fire extinguisher, wrench to turn off all gas and other utilities in house, NOAA “all hazards” radio; batteries, utility knife, whistle, rope, broom, and of course, the all-inclusive high quality duct tape.
Essential Family Identification and Documentation: Store in a waterproof, portable container. (Much of this should be part of your Family Communication Plan.) Include traveler’s checks or cash, etc. and copies of personal identification: birth, marriage, and passport IDs work well.
Disaster preparedness for people with special needs can be found on page 14 of the Disaster Guide.
If you are notified that an event is imminent within 24 hours, it is time to put your preparedness plans into action — make sure your disaster kit is handy, move animals to high ground, fill your car’s gas tank, be prepared to evacuate, check for family and neighbors with special needs to see if they need assistance; if evaculation is required, pick two places to meet if your family is separated, preferably a location a safe distance outside your neighborhood, and ensure all members have a check-in person to call outside the area in case of separation, and leave a note in the house of your location and contact information.
If time permits, turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close off the main gas valve. Move all valuables to upper floors or higher elevation, fill bathtubs, sinks, and plastic soda bottles with clean water after first disinfecting containers; bring outdoor possessions such as grills, inside.
In Pierce County, there are approximately 4,000 locations identified as potential emergency shelters which will be announced on the radio and by City Personnel.
In Pierce County, neighbors have formed Neighborhood Emergency Teams with the help of Pierce County Emergency Management. Pierce County Neighborhood Emergency Teams, or PC-NET, offers training for communication, first aid, damage assessment, safety and security, light search and rescue, shelter and special needs, and crime prevention, plus overall coordination of these teams.
For more information call Pierce County Emergency Management at 253-798-6595, or go online to www.piercecountywa.org/prepare; and also print off these two pdf checklists (press ctrl and click on the link to open):
To get additional copies of Pierce County’s Disaster Guide, call 253-798-2725 or print a copy from the website: www.piercecountywa.org/flood
Water Storage Tips:
This past October was the first ever Pierce County Emergency Preparedness Day, and sadly, I never heard about it in time to attend. Worse, the next training session isn’t until October 9, 2010, so a full year from now! I believe it is the duty of Tacoma and Pierce County to host trainings every few months and raise more public awareness about disaster preparedness.
In the meantime, check out the links, and think about preparing yourself in the event of a disaster.